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Volume 01 Issue 01 - Winter 2012

Live in yours. Play in ours

Chill Factor | Backcountry Disaster | Take the Plunge


Montana elements are always in a state of flux, and for this reason we choose to live here under this big sky.

As fast as the seasons change, so do our interests in what Montana offers us in the form of outdoor endeavors, the heavy silence on a starry night, the roar of mountain spring water as it crashes through narrow rocky canyons, the goose bumps on your neck the first time you scream inside at the sight of a grizzly while hiking your favorite trail. Only time limits us from experiencing everything Montana sets before us. As each one of us shares in experiencing these elements, we learn something— something we keep inside, something we share, something that drives us to do it again and again. With that experience comes responsibility: the responsibility to care for the things we enjoy and encourage others to experience them. The responsibility to get involved—be it actively or as a supportive spectator—and be a responsible enthusiast, not an ungrateful abuser. Montana Elements Magazine has something to offer everyone. You will find quality information not just on what goes on, but why it goes on, the impact it has on our communities and how we can get involved. You will also discover where to get the gear, how to prepare…and how to recover. We will provide the history and details of local events and interests in a format that motivates involvement and encourages all to get out in the elements that make up Montana. Enjoy the dialogue, the photography and, yes, the advertisements—they make this venue possible.

Welcome to our Element.

Front Cover: Noah Couser Photo Editor: Brad Butler Graphic Design & Layout: Claire Hanlon Copy Editor: Claire Hanlon Contributors: Jared & Claire Hanlon, Kasa Zipfel, Press Designs, Spencer Jenko, Hilary Shepherd, Don Bennett, Heather Altenburg, Bigfork Anglers, Swan Mountain Snowmobiling, Outside Media, RMO Advertising Sales Montana Elements 723 5th Ave East, Ste 311C Kalispell, MT Phone: (406) 212 4223 Owner: Shawn Altenburg ©Montana Elements Magazine 2011 All Rights Reserved

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Contents

12. Chill Factor

17. What’s Under Your Feet?

2

Editor’s Note

24

6

Take the Plunge

26 Brewfest

8

Winter Angling

41

Middle of Somewhere

10

Gear Review

46

Forward Thinking

15

The Machine Behind the Snow Bus

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Drip Trip


28. Backcountry Disaster

44. Where to Finish

Future Features Five Flies Whitewater Festival Middle of Somewhere River Knowledge

Define: Exposure A physical condition resulting from being outside in severe weather conditions without adequate protection

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take the plunge


On January first, hundreds of brave—or foolhardy—souls usher in the new year with an annual dip in Woods Bay’s frigid water. The Polar Bear Plunge, hosted by the Raven Brew Pub, is an almost 20 year old tradition, drawing in thrill-seekers from near and far. This year’s event saw close to 200 participants and even more onlookers; a temperature of about 35 degrees was no deterrent. Perhaps it’s because they knew that hot chili and stiff drinks were just minutes away.

BY Claire Hanlon / PHOTOGRAPHY BY Brad Butler

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Winter Angling The leaves are turning gold and falling, and the snow isn’t far behind; autumn has arrived and it’s beautiful! Montana’s outdoor sports enthusiasts are waxing skis and snowboards. Hunters are plying the hills in pur-

Don’t let Falling temperatures freeze up your fly-fishing plans

suit of elk, deer and other game. Snowmobilers are tweaking motors and ice fisherman are sharpening

in some quality synthetic-fiber long underwear—try Patagonia’s

augers and sorting jigs. As summer crowds retreat,

Capilene or Simms’ Guide Fleece—and a couple pairs of good wool

water temperatures drop and hatches intensify, we fly

or wool/synthetic blend socks. On top, go with the same type of

anglers are getting some of the best days of the year.

base layer as the legs, then add as much wool or fleece as needed.

The fish are strong, healthy and on the feed until the

Avoid cotton in your layering system, especially next to the skin; it

first sustained cold weather snap. Then it’s, “Farewell,

does not wick well and, if wet, will freeze you. Next, find a good pair

see you in the spring!”

of waders and boots that are roomy enough to allow movement

When winter comes, everything but the main stems

and circulation. Then top it all off with a wind- and water-proof,

of the larger river systems freeze over. For most, fly-

hard or soft-shell hooded jacket. If you want some extra warmth

fishing ends at this point of the year—it’s something

and comfort, stuff hand warmer packets into your pockets and

to dream about as the short, cold days of winter drive

stick them to your lower back, over your kidneys.

us, little by little, toward questionable behavior such as working or bowling. But fear not, my friends: you need not become a fulltime wood-splitter or roof-shoveler just to fill spare time. You can practice safe and successful fly-fishing throughout the entire year as long as you have a window of favorable weather and the proper gear. In fact, some of my most memorable days on the water have been during what most anglers consider the “off season.” A few things must be done to get the

After all the gearing up, the other important issue is the weather.

Some of my most memorable days on the water have been during what most anglers consider the “off season.”

Keep an on weather trends and head out to fish whenever it’s a bit warmer. Even a few degrees in the upward direction make a huge difference, both for comfort and for fishing success. Once you make it to the river, keep in mind that trout are coldblooded creatures: with chilly water comes slowed metabolism and decreased activity. With this knowledge, it’s easy to see

most out of a cold winter’s day on the river. First and

that the fish aren’t going to be in the same fast-water stretches

foremost, you must obtain and use the correct attire.

that they prefer during warm months. Look for slow, deep pools,

A warm hat, fingerless gloves and a rain shell jacket

eddies, and long runs with some structure.

are a must. To really stay warm on the water, invest 8 montana elements magazine

Insect hatches will be very minimal. Unless you hit one of those


BY Brent Lobbestael / PHOTOGRAPH BY Talus Outdoors

Sporting the Cold Avenger face mask / See page 10

magical days where the sun comes out and the midges hatch in abundance, use double nymph rigs under an indicator, or slow-roll a streamer through good water. Fly choices should include nymphs—the San Juan worm, pheasant tail, zebra midge, prince, lighting bug and stonefly—and whatever you have in your box that looks fishy. On tail water streams, try scud. For the most part, flies should be on the small side. Good streamers come in a wide array of sizes colors and designs, so pick one you like and try it out. Consider starting with crystal buggers, sculpins and zonkers. So, this winter, rather than treading a worn spot on your living room floor or going unhinged and watching something like Dancing With The Stars, keep your rods ready and catch some fish. The water—and the air—may be cold, but the trout are still there and they still have to eat. For more advice, or to purchase the best gear and flies, stop in and talk to the good folks at Bigfork Anglers in downtown Bigfork. Check their website at www.bigforkanglers.com, or call (406) 837-3675. I’ll see you out there! montana elements magazine 9


GEAR

Up to 50% of all cold weather workers, athletes and residents experience some sort of reduced lung function due to prolonged exposure to the cold. Cold weather exposure of the airway and face is a form of chronic trauma that can cause cough, asthma, and other adverse health effects such as “walking pneumonia.” A counter measure for decreasing the occurrence of these health problems in cold weather is to increase warmth and moisture of the airway without increasing resistance when working breathing rates are high. The ColdAvenger’s patent-pending ventilation technology actually keeps temperatures inside the mask 40˚– 60˚F higher than outside air.

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One of Salomon’s top products for the year is the powerful Quest 14 ski boot—built for robust, Alpine skiers who are looking for a boot that delivers access to the best part of the mountain whether hiking or skiing. With diverse options in all-mountain versatility and walkability with the patented Ride/Hike technology, this is the first alpine boot that hikes and tours as well as it skis. This burly, high performance boot uses Ride & Hike technology, has a longer magnesium Backbone for optimal alpine foot position, a thicker, insulated bootboard to stiffen the sole for more power, a race liner, a race spoiler and a forward pressure plate to enhance leverage over more powerful skis. Unquestionable high performance alpine access.

Adjustment: Longer Pro backbone release—2 mm longer than Quest 12 and places foot in the best alpine position to maximize transmission. Racing Spoiler. Thicker and insulated bootboard to reduce volume and increase foothold. Technology: Ride & Hike

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Liners: My Custom Fit Race Last: 100

Flex: 130

Sizes: 24-29.5


Dynafit Radical ST Alpine Touring Binding I saw my first pair of Dynafit bindings 20 years ago while skiing the Haute Route in Europe. At first glance, the minimalist nature of the binding left me suspicious; but after watching them perform flawlessly day after day in the Alps, I became one of the first retailers in North America to proudly offer them. Since then there has been steady growth in the variety of alpine touring bindings available (alpine touring bindings function similarly to regular alpine bindings in downhill mode, but they also have a mode which allows for uphill travel when combined with climbing skins adhered to the base of one’s skis). Today, the choices in alpine touring bindings range from the more downhill oriented Marker’s to the convenient and ever popular Fritschi’s, to the lightweight yet durable Dynafit’s.

For 2011, the Dynafit Radical ST improves upon an already rock-solid product. I have no doubts that Dynafit will continue to claim increased market share amongst back-country skiers with this binding. Basically, Dynafit has introduced three key improvements: “Side towers” make getting into the binding easier; a “speed step” heel elevator system eliminates Fritschi envy; and, a “gliding plate” on the brakes improves the side release. So, the new Radical ST binding continues the Dynafit tradition of lightweight and bombproof bindings, but now they are even easier to use. And improved ease of use is what users want. I am pleased to say Dynafit listened. If you’ve been considering getting into alpine touring skiing or upgrading your bindings, I encourage you to consider the new Radical ST from Dynafit. And if you come in to RMO to check them out, throw your boots and skis in the car just in case... -Rocky Mountain Outfitter

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It started out like any other hunting trip for john Smith*, a 49 year old montana native.

*Actual name withheld

He set out just before sunset, leaving his car in a wooded area. But he soon became lost and wandered six miles in hostile terrain and unforgiving weather. Search crews discovered Smith’s stiff and catatonic body the next night,

30 hours after he’d left his vehicle. He was dressed in thermal underwear, jeans, wool socks, sneakers, an oil-cloth coat and a cowboy hat; all his clothes were soaked through and he smelled of wood smoke. The coroner certified death as

BY Claire Hanlon / PHOTOGRAPH BY Spencer Jenko

12 montana elements magazine

fatal arrhythmia resulting from severe hypothermia. Hypothermia is a little thought of but deadly risk for Montanans. According to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), our state ranked second only to Alaska in hypothermia related deaths from 1999 to 2004,


body isn’t meant to endure such conditions. Hypothermia affects the body’s vital organs—the brain, heart and lungs—and causes the core temperature to sink to 95 degrees or less. Shivering, lethargy, dizziness and confusion are sure signs of mild to moderate hypothermia, according to DPHHS. As the condition becomes more severe, the person becomes disoriented. Shivering stops, movements become uncoordinated, and he or she may fall into a coma. “Victims often are not aware that they are suffering from hypothermia,” says Dr. Steve Helgerson, a state medical officer for the department. Contrary to popular belief, skin to skin contact with

“Montana ranked second only to Alaska in hypothermia related deaths”

a rate five times higher than that of the United States as a whole. The condition is usually onset by prolonged exposure to extreme cold and is exacerbated by wet environments. It causes the body to lose heat faster than it can produce it. Montanans often take pride in their ability to withstand frigid temperatures, which may be a contributing factor to the state’s high death rate. But the human

someone suffering from hypothermia actually causes both individuals to lose valuable body warmth. Instead, if you encounter someone in a hypothermic state, gently remove the victim’s wet clothes and prevent further heat loss; a dry wool blanket is a great start. Hypothermia causes the body’s organs to be extremely susceptible to shock, so it’s paramount that you treat the person with care. Help him or her warm up slowly by applying heat packs to the groin and armpits. If the person can swallow, give them warm, sugary drinks, but stay away from caffeine or alcohol. Above all, make sure he or she gets professional medical assistance. This winter season, hold your safety above all else. If you expect to be outside for long periods of time, dress appropriately and let people know where you’re headed. The DPHHS recommends covering all exposed skin, wearing loose-fitting layers that trap heat close to your body and wearing a hat. Avoid consuming drugs and alcohol and try not to overexert yourself— sweating actually chills the body. Keep an eye on sleeping babies, regularly check up on friends and neighbors, and remember: Montana is a state to be reckoned with. montana elements magazine 13


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The Machine Behind the

S.N.O.W. Bus Pizza, french fries, pizza, french fries! I remember this mantra running through my head, which sat bundled under a mass of clothes designed to melt an arctic winter. I was sitting on the ski bus, excited and determined. At the age of five, I was dead set on remembering this food analogy so that I could master the art of skiing. Despite the fact that my legs weren’t long enough to touch the floor—and driving was at least a decade away—I had a ride. As I grew older, the luxury of ready transportation to the local ski hill became a saving grace for me, as it is for many teens that can’t yet drive. Kalispell teen Cassie Vande started snowboarding four years ago, “and I’ve definitely been able to go more because my parents can’t always give me a ride up the mountain.” Because her parents know many people that also ride the bus, they’re assured that their daughter is in good hands. “It’s definitely been a positive aspect of my life because I can

always come up and snowboard. Even if my friends can’t make it, it’s always something I can do by myself, whether it’s on the weekends or when I don’t have anything else to do.” Cassie chanced upon the SNOW bus when she first noticed it cruising through town. Though many of us have seen the bright blue bus covered with giant snowflakes, the process that keeps it up and running isn’t as well known. When the Big Mountain Commercial Association (BMCA) started the SNOW bus in 1998, it provided 18,000 rides up the mountain. By 2009, the number was up to 55,570. Now there are three buses that chauffeur winter sport enthusiasts up the mountain each year. But the bus is only one piece of the puzzle. The BMCA raises funds to pay for the programs and services that make Whitefish both a fun place to live and a popular tourist destination. Each year, the organization hosts the BMCA Brewfest and the Winter Winefest. The Association also pours $77,000 of funding into winter road maintenance and Big Mountain Road’s village shuttle. Providing shuttle services not only helps transport tourists, but it’s also a way for hard-working locals to kick back and let someone else do the work: it alleviates the hassle of packed parking lots and road congestion. The Big Mountain Commercial Association is comprised of local business owners. In exchange for their support, they receive a discounted season pass and free advertising on the SNOW bus and in the BMCA’s newsletter. By strategically stopping at local businesses, the SNOW bus caters to tourists and affords merchants extra exposure. Whitefish resident Marshall Yarus points out another benefit of the bus route. “Since I’m always late, it’s nice that it stops at several locations. It takes off from McDonald’s but I usually have to catch it at the train station,” he said. For more information about how to join the BMCA please call Rick Cunningham at 253-9192; see opposing page for routes, stops and times. BY Kasa Zipfel montana elements magazine 15


What’s under your feet ?

PHOTOGRAPH BY www.hike734.com


“ Big, dark eyes

a mountain goat. Not sure what to do, I freeze. “It’s his territory; let’s move to the side so he can get through,” says my dad, who holds up the back of our caravan as I trailblaze the front. I heed the advice of his 30+ years of backpacking experience and move to the side. The goat nonchalantly walks by, as if passing humans in the midst of these ancient peaks and rugged terrain is nothing out of the ordinary. His legs move eloquently, strategically and rhythmically along the craggy cliff side; his gaze is relaxed and straight-ahead. This disturbs me. The goat isn’t the first set of big black eyes that seemed a little too casual about our bipedal approach. Several rodents were more than happy to capitalize on my sister’s enthusiasm about their “cuteness.” Like clockwork, they widened their eyes in an award-winning begging performance. I knew a lot about the park’s history, but not enough about the history of the trails to realize why these fourlegged creatures were all too comfortable with their two-legged counterparts. Glacier National Park (GNP) was officially established in 1910, but at that time trails were reserved for the Blackfeet, Pend Oreille, Kootenay and other native inhabitants who knew the secrets of this deadly and sacred backcountry. They’d hunted on these paths for years. Early non-native explorers

stare at me, stopping me dead in my tracks as I hike along the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park.

It’s supposed to be just a day out in the park—nothing out of the ordinary or uncanny, with the exception of my dad’s fervent hope to see a grizzly bear. Dad reassures me, “The statistical odds of being attacked by a grizzly bear are much less than those of black bear attacks. Honestly, we have more chance of getting hit by lightning than getting mauled by a grizzly bear.” “Dad, there’s a fine line between stupidity and statistics,” I say, and forgivingly remember that, because he’s a scientist, his entire lens of reality is skewed. Mid-thought, I find myself in a staring match with

18 montana elements magazine


and trappers followed, but it wasn’t until the National Park Service was established in 1916 that trail expansion became key in the formation of one of the country’s most beloved backpacking and hiking destinations. The National Park Service was a unifying agent for all national parks. Marking the end of World War I, it was the new allocation point for a hefty amount of federal funds. These funds sponsored the construction of GNP’s campsites, roads, bridges, patrol cabins, ranger stations and, of course, the trails that drive visitors in search of a unique adventure. The pressure of carving trails through Glacier’s acreage becomes apparent when studying the park’s trail mileage history. According to then Park Supervisor George E. Goodwin, only 200 miles of trails existed in 1917. By 1930, there were more than 841 miles. Before long, more than 1,000 miles of trails existed in the park. GNP has a long history as a hiker and backpacker’s paradise. With this amount of trails and hikers, it seems logical that local creatures would acclimate to human hikers and backpackers. Today, there are 734

miles of maintained hiking trails, according to the Glacier National Park Fund (GNPF). Over the years, fires, floods and avalanches have reduced the amount of trails within the park. With floods highly anticipated this year, the amount of mileage available to hikers is still in question. A Flooded Trails Initiative was created in 2007 as a means for immediately funding upkeep of day-to-day trail rehabilitation that would otherwise remain closed while waiting for federal repair funds.

BY Kasa Zipfel / PHOTOGRAPH BY www.hike734.com

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20 montana elements magazine

PHOTOGRAPH BY Debra Reeves

Swiftcurrent Trail


“People don’t think about things like [physical challenges] . . . Limited mobility is an issue for many people. Yet, these people still want to get outdoors and enjoy the park.” Visitors to GNP benefit from the GNPF’s dedication; like visitors, GNPF members spend ample time frequenting the park. Since its inception in 1999 by thenGovernor Racicot, the GNPF has distributed more than $3 million to the park for preservation, research and education. The GNPF works to maintain and promote experiences similar to the one I had, but their spectrum of focus isn’t limited to those who take their legs for granted. Last year, GNPF devoted time and funds to provide wheelchair-, strollerand walker-accessible trails. It’s adventures like confronting a mountain goat on the Highline Trail that people like Doug Betters may not get to participate in. Lucky for Doug, he had years of mobility before inheriting his wheelchair-bound state. Many are not so lucky. Connecting with nature is an essential part of being human; disabilities can limit that connection. GNPF worked hard to raise and utilize funds from the Centennial Legacy Projects Campaign of 2010 in order to build an accessible trail from the Many Glacier Valley to Swiftcurrent Lake. For visitors, this means that, regardless of your physical capability, the new trail offers you contact with breathtaking

beauty. For locals, it means we can take our grandparents to the park and—in my grandma’s case—there’s enough room for a walker to stroll down the path. “People don’t think about things like [physical challenges]. We’re getting to be a very obese nation, and limited mobility is an issue for many people. Yet, these people still want to go through the park, get outdoors, and enjoy the park,” said Doug. Of all people, Doug should know. As an NFL Defensive Player of the Year who made the Super Bowl twice, Doug’s way of life dramatically changed in 1998 when a skiing accident left him paraplegic. Though his mobility became restricted, his point of view expanded dramatically. “People don’t think about the need for respect and dignity for people that want to stay independent,” he said. Doug had been coming up to the park since his college days as a defensive star for the Montana Grizz. During the years that he played for the Miami Dolphins, he called Whitefish his home in the offseason. After his accident, his perspective on the park changed too: “I never had any clue. I’ve never been around any people with spinal cord injuries or [people] in wheelchairs in general. montana elements magazine 21


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PHOTOGRAPH BY Jane Ratzlaff

Doug Betters with Fall for Glacier guests at the dedication of the Many Glacier Accessible Trail

It’s kind of funny—as a kid, I’d always steer clear of them.” Now, Doug remains among them. “I support any accessible projects out there, obviously for self-serving interests, but there’s a large portion of people out there with mobility issues,” Doug said. For his part, “You can’t really experience the sounds, sights and smells of things that make the park so amazing unless you can get more than 100 feet away from your vehicle. In a wheel chair, that’s hard. But, just even from 100 yards you can [see] the Park in a completely different way.” GNPF helped open a new piece of Glacier’s landscape with the completion of the Many Glacier Valley to Swiftcurrent Lake trail. It’s just one of the many causes that the foundation supports and that Montana Elements will highlight in their series about GNPF. The Montana lifestyle isn’t just about catering to those whose physical situation is ideal for nature’s thrills. It’s about the appreciation of the elements by all who are willing to enjoy, honor and protect it.

This summer, millions will hike in GNP. Many of us won’t think about those who are hostage to their physical condition but still wish to engage in an adventurous endeavor. Most certainly, the mountain goat didn’t think about it as he strategically steered clear of my family and me on the Highline Trail. Organizations such as GNPF independently raise money to create a more inclusive park experience. It’s that experience that ensures future generations will value, honor and fight for the preservation of the park. And it’s that experience and endeavor that we’ll delve into more next month with our ongoing GNPF series.


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Drip Trip


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Last year’s annual Brewfest & Dummy Derby

—a B.M.C.A. event—featured live music by David Boone,

microbrews from over 12 local breweries, and the chance to watch home-made dummies strapped to skis careen down the slopes. What more could you possibly ask from a benefit event? That’s right, all proceeds go directly to a local non-profit service: the S.N.O.W. Bus! This year’s festivities will start at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 3rd. Don’t miss the Dummy Derby (4:30 p.m.) or the vocal stylings of Andrew Floyd and Mood Iguana (4-7 p.m.). Or, if you fancy, you can enter your own dummy for the chance to win up to $500! Remember, it’s all for a good cause.

brewfest


BY Claire Hanlon / PHOTOGRAPH BY Brad Butler

left to right: david boone strums and croons / a brewery representative pours a delicious sample / the bier stube offers a warm retreat from the falling snow opposite page: a fearsome dummy stares blankly before its plunge down the mountain

montana elements magazine 27


PHOTOGRAPH BYelements Don Bennett 28 montana magazine


everyone’s got a plan until you get punched in the mouth Backcountry disaster hits without warning

montana elements magazine 29


I

attended the Northern Rockies Avalanche Training Workshop in Whitefish, Montana on October 1, 2011 and found the seminar to be very informative and the speakers to be very knowledgeable. I learned what to look out for in backcountry conditions, how to test the snow for stability and how to look for warning signs of potential avalanches. Although it is very important to understand snow conditions and the sometimes subtle evidence of potential avalanche dangers, it is another thing to know what to expect in a real-life avalanche situation. It is like Mike Tyson said, “Everyone has got a plan until you get punched in the mouth.”

Though I was only an attendee at the seminar, I spoke up during one of the sessions because I felt it was incredibly important for people to understand the other side of the avalanche equation. Most experienced backcountry skiers and snowmobilers—including myself—believe that they are adequately prepared to deal with an avalanche situation. We attend avalanche training workshops, we carry beacons, shovels and probe poles and we feel that we are prepared for the unlikely event of a life-threatening avalanche. However, I think that most of us do not truly fathom the real life, ongoing consequences of an actual avalanche. I have seen avalanches and I have very nearly been caught in avalanches, but until January 2011 I had never experienced the near-paralyzing panic and emotion of a fatal avalanche. On that day, a dear friend of mine lost his life; another very close friend nearly lost his life and, had he not been uncovered within minutes of the tragic avalanche, was probably within a minute of dying. The treed area was not the “typical” avalanche-prone area. Although my friends and I ride aggressively, we have always been very cautious and aware of our surroundings. After a quick lunch break, four of the seven riders in our group split off. I stayed behind, frustrated with my snowmobile’s engine problems. Only a few moments later a panicstricken buddy returned, informing me that a large avalanche had engulfed two of our friends. I hopped on a working snowmobile and raced to the scene. By the time I arrived, my friends had already dug one rider out and located the second. The first visual of Bruce was his backpack, which was approximately 6 feet below the surface. He was buried mostly inverted—head down and feet up—his body at an approximate 60-degree angle from horizontal. His head was about 10 feet below the snow’s surface and beneath two logs. From the time of the avalanche, it took 40-45 30 montana elements magazine

minutes to uncover and free him. I performed CPR for an hour and 15 minutes before it was obvious that Bruce had no chance of revival.Perhaps the only reason I am even here today and able to contribute to this article is because I was fortunate enough to have my snowmobile break down just prior to the avalanche incident; otherwise I am sure that I would have been right in the middle of it. It is difficult for me to speak, write, or even think about this past


January’s incident without finding myself instantly immersed in feelings that are as real as the day it happened. I have to force myself to shake away thoughts like, “Why did this happen to Bruce? I wish it would have been me instead.” Or, “I failed to save my friend’s life— is it my fault that he is no longer alive?” Or “What could I have possibly done differently to have saved Bruce’s life?” I am sharing this experience in hopes that you will never have similar questions ratt-

ling around your mind, day after day. Avalanche preparedness means something different to me today. It still means having the proper

“For me, everything is different now.” equipment, training and preparation for backcountry recreation. But it also

means that being fully prepared may not only save your life and your friend’s life—it may also help you cope with the extreme emotions and self-imposed guilt that can be associated with the tragic loss of your friend, your father, your son, your daughter or your spouse. I believe that many of us, without thinking too much about it, carry safety equipment for our own benefit. We carry a beacon so that others can locate us if we get buried in an avalanche. We carry a shovel to dig test snow pits, build jumps, or dig our snowmobile out from a deep trench. We carry a saw so that we can trim branches to start a fire for lunch. We carry a twoway radio in case we become separated from the group and need to locate them. For me, everything is different now. I carry a quality digital beacon capable of quickly locating another beacon to help me save my friend’s life. I carry a sturdy metal shovel so I can quickly uncover my partner from compacted, concrete -like snow. I carry a high quality saw because I know what it is like to have logs— not just branches—separate your buddy from his next breath. I carry a two-way radio and a cell phone so that I can readily contact others in the group and/or Search and Rescue in an emergency.

BY Don Bennett / PHOTOGRAPHY BY Lido Vizzutti of the Flathead Beacon montana elements magazine 31


Prior to this tragic accident, I did not pay special attention to the quality of gear that my riding companions carried with them. Now it is almost an obsession. When I see someone with an old, outdated tranceiver, I feel disappointed—nearly to the point of anger. I know that in an emergency I will be able to immediately locate that individual with my technologically advanced beacon, but he will be unable to return the favor as he paces back and forth over my snowy grave with his old tranceiver, trying to figure out where I am buried. The quality of the beacon that you wear is not for you; it is for the people you are with. If you care for them, you will carry quality equipment. If they care for you, they will also carry quality equipment and be prepared. Think deeply about an avalanche situation and try to imagine 32 montana elements magazine

what you would do. Time is of the essence. No time to think. Everything is chaos. Everything you do seems to be in slow motion. The snow is deep. Darkness is looming. It is getting colder and the wind is picking up. There is so much to do, but what do you do first? You have nowhere to turn and no one else to rely upon—it is up to you. Your companions are buried somewhere on the mountain. If you locate your companions and are able to revive them, but they have suffered massive injuries, are you prepared to properly provide CPR and other medical procedures to sustain them until help arrives? Are you able to summon help? Do you have the capability of communicating your location? The

effort of digging your companions out leaves you completely exhau-

You have nowhere to turn and no one else to rely upon—it is up to you. sted, with sweat-soaked clothing. You begin to shiver in the darkness and worry that hypothermia may be setting in. You are very thirsty. Do you have the resources to start a fire in wet conditions? How are you going to retain your companions’ body heat as they lay there writhing in pain and shivering? What are you cursing yourself for not bringing? Imagine the feeling of coming off the dark mountain with your dear


friend’s dead body pulled behind a Search and Rescue snowmobile when you meet his wife. I will never forget the spine-chilling, hollow feeling as I stood there speechless, looking into her eyes that were filled with a combination of anger, disbelief, fear and desperation. I know in my heart that we were prepared, at least superficially, for such an incident. I know that we all did everything we possibly could to save his life. Nonetheless, the anxiety persists. I cannot imagine what my feelings would be if we had not been prepared and there was a chance we could have saved his life with the proper equipment. Having quality equipment is essential. In an emergency situation, especially when your

The fatal avalanche that took one man’s life PHOTOGRAPH BY Don Bennett

companion’s life is in limbo, the equipment is priceless. Once you have quality equipment, know how to use it. Practice using your beacon so that in an emergency you will immediately know how operate it. The next time you practice your beacon skills, try holding your breath until you locate the target beacon. This might give you a better understanding of what your buried companion is going through and how precious seconds are in a time of crisis. Have a plan, but always remember, “Everyone has got a plan until you get punched in the mouth.” I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a survival expert. I have, however, put together a list of practical gear that I believe can make a significant difference in the event of a tragedy. Many backcountry activities are strenuous, so the less weight to carry around, the better. I would recommend that you err on the side of being more prepared than having to live with the guilt that could go along with being underprepared. I am sure there are other useful and practical items that are not on my list and I always welcome suggestions.


avalanche-ready

Equipment & Supplies

In my opinion, the quality of your equipment and the supplies you carry with you in the backcountry > > > When packing for a are a true reflection of how much backcountry excursion, you value the lives and safety of count these items in: your companions. Don Bennett Backpack large enough to carry sufficient supplies and gear to survive the night Up-to-date digital avalanche beacon >>> Everyone in your party should have one Sturdy metal shovel with an extendable handle (a longer handle is better in a deep hole) Very sharp saw with a blade long enough to quickly saw through large limbs Probe pole GPS and/or a Spot Two-way radios powerful enough to reach out at least 5 miles Tie-down straps Extra batteries for all your electronic equipment Cell phone 34 montana elements magazine

Headlamp/flashlight Emergency flare Duct tape Fire starter for wet conditions Space blanket to retain body heat and/ or build a shelter Hand warmers First Aid kit equipped for severe injuries >>> Band-aids are of little use for severe injuries Large ace bandage that may be used to stop profuse bleeding Small roll of wire Versatile tools: crescent wrench, needle nose pliers, vice grips, quality Leatherman, etc. Several sizes of larger zip ties Map and compass Energy-providing food and liquids


For current avalanche forecasts and advisories, visit www.glacieravalanche.com or call their hotline at (406) 257-8402

“The quality of the beacon that you wear is not for you; it is for the people you are with. If you care for them, you will carry quality equipment. If they care for you, they will also carry quality equipment and be prepared.�

montana elements magazine 35


36 montana elements magazine


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montana elements magazine 37


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PHOTOGRAPHY BY Brad Butler 44 montana elements magazine


THERE’S A FOUR BLOCK STRETCH OF KALISPELL’S MAIN STREET THAT LOOKS A LOT LIKE THE STUDIO SET OF “GUNSMOKE.” WEDGED IN AMONG THE OLD BUILDINGS IS A PLACE CALLED HOP’S DOWNTOWN GRILL, THE LATEST VENTURE BY CHEF DOUG DAY. IF YOU’RE LOOKING Chef Day says the ultimate burger experience has four elements: FOR THE ULTIMATE 1. Quality beef raised without growth hormones or antibiotics, ground fresh using only the chuck. MONTANA BURGER, 2. A hand-made bun. If you’re hanging around down town Kalispell in the morning, you’ll catch the aroma of sourdough wheat buns baking in the Hop‘s kitchen. WELCOME HOME. 3. The crunch of fresh Idaho russet potato chips dusted with a little sea salt. 4. An ice-cold pint of Flathead Lake Brewing Company’s Centennial IPA.

Hop’s starters range from Baja Fish Tacos with Chipotle Slaw to Chicken Satay with Mrs. Chong’s Peanut Sauce. The Five Spice Baby Back Ribs with Huckleberry Barbecue Sauce are an experience in themselves. Hop’s kitchen also turns out some of the best rustic, brick-oven pizza in town. There’s a great line-up of local brews on tap and beers from around the world. The wine list offers a dozen or so glass pours and an interesting collection of bottles. Open from 4:30 to 9pm, Monday - Thursday 4:30 to 10pm, Friday & Saturday. 121 Main Street, Kalispell / Phone 406-755-7687 / www.hopsmontana.com

montana elements magazine 45


Forward Thinking January 21 - Whitefish Mountain Resort Winter Whiteout Ski Mountaineering Competition / www.skiwhitefish.com January 23 - Advanced Avalanche Awareness for Snowmobilers / www.glacieravalanche.org January 27-February 2 - Skijoring Competition Horse & Ski Event / Whitefish City Airport February 3-5 - Smash’n Bash Whitefish International Hockey Tournament February 4 - Whitefish Winter Carnival & Grand Parade February 17-18 - Backcountry Snowmobile Clinic / Sponsored by Fastoys / (406) 257-8697 February 25 - 3rd Annual Bigfork Brewfest / www.bigforkbrewfest.com March 1 - 7 p.m. Hike 734: Every Mile of Trail in Glacier, in One Summer / www.glacierfund.org & www.hike734.com March 3 - Whitefish Winter Brewfest & Dummy Derby March 30-April 1 - Sportsman’s Expo: 1st Annual Outdoor Sports Show / www.montanasportsmansexpo.com May 26-27 - Bigfork Whitewater Festival PHOTOGRAPHY BY Brad Butler

We’d love to hear your thoughts! Direct your questions and comments (or submit a photo you’ve snapped) to shawn@montanaelements.com or visit our facebook page. 46 montana elements magazine


HEADWALL TRICLIMATE JACKET $260.00

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Issue 2